Fall films promise more cerebral cinema

Breaking down this summer’s hits and misses, there were quite a few expensive failures in Hollywood (The Lone Ranger, White House Down and R.I.P.D.) and a number of indie successes (Mud, The Way, Way Back and Blue Jasmine).

Fall preview · Lupita Young (right) stars as Patsey and Sarah Paulson (left) stars as Mistress Epps in Fox Searchlight Pictures’ 12 Years a Slave. Film offerings will turn toward more intellectual fare this fall. - Courtesy of AceShowbiz.com

Fall preview · Lupita Young (right) stars as Patsey and Sarah Paulson (left) stars as Mistress Epps in Fox Searchlight Pictures’ 12 Years a Slave. Film offerings will turn toward more intellectual fare this fall. – Courtesy of AceShowbiz.com

One such indie, Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, is on its way to becoming the year’s top indie at the box office, according to The Wrap.

Blue Jasmine’s success is indicative of the financial (and critical) potential for these smaller-budget films from smaller studios.

But, of course, looking at how summer movies performed is not as black and white as saying indies performed well and blockbusters flopped.

World War Z, for example, cost around $220 million to make, according to Deadline Hollywood, and was therefore expected to be a flop. Can a movie that was that expensive to make earn everything back and then some? But to everyone’s surprise, the film ended up making more than $500 million worldwide, making it Brad Pitt’s highest-grossing film yet.

There’s a bit of a gray area here when it comes to big-budget blockbusters vs. small indie darlings. Still, with major fall films coming up — The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Captain Phillips, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, etc. — it will be interesting to see how major and minor films stack up against each other.

Looking at how films performed over summer and the months ahead, the question is: In this rivalry of sorts, what can we expect for the fall?

There will be bigger films, but there will also be a surplus of films with more modest budgets from smaller studios. Four such films — all of which will open in limited release — that look promising (either critically and/or as awards contenders) are as follows:

12 Years a Slave (Oct. 18; Fox Searchlight) 

Director Steve McQueen’s (Shame) 12 Years a Slave tells the tale of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man who was abducted and sold into slavery in the  pre-Civil War United States. The film stars A-listers Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti and Quvenzhané Wallis, who was nominated last year for best actress at the Academy Awards for Beasts of the Southern Wild — she was nine years old at the time.

12 Years a Slave follows The Butler and precedes Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, indicating a trend toward racially conscious films. The Butler has done well at the box office so far — Box Office Mojo reported that the film topped the charts again this past weekend (its second weekend), pushing it past the $50 million mark.

In the wake of the George Zimmerman trial and the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, films such as McQueen’s are as pertinent and attention-grabbing as ever.  Issues of racial difference will always be timely, and McQueen’s film, despite being set in the 1860s, is sure to raise important questions about America’s progress as a tolerant nation.

Oldboy (Nov. 27; The Film Desk)

Chan-wook Park’s Oldboy — released in 2003 — wowed critics with its mind-blowing, original narrative, stunning cinematography and captivating performances. Ten years after its original release, Spike Lee (Malcolm X, Do the Right Thing) has created a remake starring Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen and Samuel L. Jackson.

American remakes of foreign films are nothing new to cinema. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Män som hatar kvinnor; Sweden), Scent of a Woman (Profumo di donna; Italy) and The Ring (Ringu; Japan) are a few of many examples of American remakes. With these re-interpretations, there’s always the question of whether or not the remake can take existing source material and make the new film feel fresh and original. In this case, can Lee match, if not surpass, Park’s original work?

Lee has credibility as a high-profile director and has been nominated for two Academy Awards. Questions of original vs. remake aside, curiosity is piqued and foreign film lovers will inevitably line up to see if Lee can do Oldboy justice.

Dallas Buyers Club (Dec. 6; Focus)

Matthew McConaughey (Mud), Jennifer Garner (Alias, Juno) and Jared Leto (Requiem for a Dream) star in Jean-Marc Vallée’s (The Young Victoria) fight for justice for the HIV community.

The film tells the story of Ron Woodroof, a Texas electrician, who is diagnosed with HIV in 1986 and decides to pursue alternative medical treatments after an uphill battle with the medical establishment and pharmaceutical companies. His fight ended up helping to provide access to supplies for HIV-positive patients. Of course, this is all done under the table, providing the film’s conflict.

From the looks of the trailer, McConaughey’s Woodroof, a cowboy slightly reminiscent of his Killer Joe’s country twang and southern charm (though much less menacing), is dynamic and round, engaging the audience.  Leto seems an able complement as Rayon, a transgender  person who helps Woodroof sell HIV drugs on the side.

Suffice to say, engaging characters and brilliant performances will likely ensue, especially since in recent years McConaughey has stepped away from poorly done romantic comedies in favor of films such as Killer Joe, Mud, The Wolf of Wall Street and now, Dallas Buyers Club. If his track record (and Club’s stellar cast and rich narrative) is any indication, audiences are in for a treat.

Inside Llewyn Davis (Dec. 6; CBS)

Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, Inside Llewyn Davis stars Oscar Isaac (Drive), Carey Mulligan (An Education) and John Goodman (Argo). It tells the story of a young singer, exploring the Greenwich Village folk scene in 1961.

Known for their eccentric writing style, the Coen brothers’ Davis will likely be a screenwriting gem full of quirky moments that infamously make the pair so unique (see Fargo’s wood chipper). Their directorial style isn’t too shabby either — from the trailer alone, one can see that Davis has a slightly dark tone about it.

Plus, it’s directed by two of the most legendary directors working today. The Coens have created masterpieces such as True Grit, The Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men and Fargo, demonstrating their ability to adapt to genre, time period and characters.

There’s reason behind their mass following,. So here’s hoping that Davis, like its predecessors, lives up to the hype.


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